Can India fight a two-front war?

General Bipin Rawat must be a huge Virat Kohli fan. Why? In the last few weeks, he has given statements that are not only overly aggressive, provocative, alarming but also gratuitously reckless. Take his statement that the Indian Army is ready to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff, this scribe will analyze this statement next week, for today, lets analyze his statement that he gave while addressing a seminar at New Delhi based Center for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS): “We have to be prepared for conflict on the northern and western borders, adding “India cannot rule out the possibility of a two-front war with China and Pakistan despite having credible nuclear deterrence capabilities.

On Pakistan, there seems to be a consensus in the Indian defense establishment that it will remain an enemy state and would continue to pose a threat to India, if it is stable and more so if destabilizes. During his address, General Rawat claimed that differences between India and Pakistan could not be reconciled.

On China, General Rawat stated that “As far as the northern adversary (China) is concerned, the flexing of muscles has started… Salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits of threshold… is something we have to be wary about and remain prepared for situations that could develop into conflicts.” Post Doklam crisis, New Delhi believe that such needling operations from China cannot be ruled out in future especially in the eastern Ladakh and eastern Arunachal Pradesh area. Indian army as echoed in General Rawat address is concerned that in such a future crisis, “Pakistan could well swing into action to take advantage of such situations when India is busy with problems on the China front.” This is the two-front war scenario that prompted the General to caution New Delhi about preparing for a two-front war. To be fair with him, As the chief of the Indian Army, it is his job to war game all possible, probable and improbable scenarios. It is also true that General Rawat is not the only one who has talked of India’s need to preparedness for a two-front war. It was then chief of Indian Army, General Deepak Kapoor who in 2009 while addressing an Army Training Command doctrine seminar pointed that Indian army must prepare for a two-front war. Since than all Indian army chiefs have voiced similar opinion, only that none of them was a modern day Narcissus.

What prompted General Rawat to say this? Although a number of Indian strategic commentators claim that New Delhi managed to end the Doklam crisis with China on its terms, they worry about the implication of any such crisis in future. In the Indian strategic calculus, China is a challenger to its leadership in the Indo-Pacific region. One of the tools, it uses to deny India its rightful and potential role in Indo-Pacific region is Pakistan. This Sino-Pak nexus against India further strengthened with the CPEC. Although at the moment, Pakistan is responsible for the security of CPEC yet, according to New Delhi, in all likelihood, in future, the presence and involvement of China’s People’s Liberation Army cannot be ruled out. Such a development will further aggravate the situation for India.

Is India in a position to fight a two front war with China and Pakistan? Why the Indian armed forces chiefs have issued statements about how they can fight all enemies? What are they pitching at and for? Does Indian armed forces have any advantage over China and Pakistan? In the previous piece, I have already highlighted the flaws in claims that the Indian armed forces are capable of neutralizing Pakistan in next armed conflict. Now take a scenario in which both China and Pakistan are fighting a war with India. The plus for India could be its BrahMos cruise missile that can be used against multiple targets. Initially, the Indians might have an advantage due to Chinese jets taking off from high altitude airfields hence small payload but How the IAF would capitalize on this? And why the Chinese and Pakistani won’t coordinate their attacks? Are the Indian armed forces ready and equipped for such a war?

IAF is struggling. How will the induction of the Rafale fighter planes will effect its operational preparedness is yet to be seen. IAF would require more Rafales than what it got to correct the balance. How many operational fighter squadrons IAF currently hold and how much it actually requires remains a hotly debated topic. Notwithstanding the aging and about to be decommission fighter jets in existing squadrons. IAF is lagging far behind its desired 45 squadrons of fully operational fighters. Almost half of the existing ones will be decommissioned in next nine years. Similar issues exist for its helicopter fleet, mid-air refueling capability and airborne surveillance capability.

The Indian army is suffering from shortage of officers and ammunition problems. Indian Navy is also suffering from similar problems. Indian Armed Forces are not happy over this and blame the Indian civilian establishment of not giving the national security the importance it deserves.

Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff is on record saying “The way national security is being handled is not commensurate with the security environment which is extremely serious at the moment”. General Rawat has also stated that the military was not getting enough funds for modernization. This is the context in which the two-front war statement should be analyzed.

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